Religion's not the only divider

The [September 30] cover article "Why They Kill: Male Bonding + Religion = Disaster" exemplifies the divisiveness that the author claims to want to overcome. The title already implies "they" differ from "us." A collage of American B-52s and Iraqi insurgents would have better represented the thesis, however misguided, that all religious men are bound to kill.

Instead, the sinister (presumably) Muslim behind his kafiah and RPG distances "those" humans from ourselves. The identity of this young man on the cover is reduced to a tool of Moqtada al-Sadr, who stares over his shoulder, and al-Sadr's ideology is reduced to irrational mayhem.

On the other hand, the cover reflects the article's polarity. Granted, in two paragraphs Thomson reflects on religion in American politics. He could have readily cited numerous times George W. Bush invokes religion on America's side; the author instead cites obscure Constitution Party candidate Michael Peroutka, thereby giving the impression that religion remains at the fringe of American politics but at the heart of Chechen or Iraqi politics.

The formula "male bonding + religion = disaster" itself poses problems. Thomson repeatedly emphasizes that religion is a social construct. However, he ignores that male violence could be socially constructed, too. After all, the games Thomson believes represent an a priori male violence could, in fact, be the very training boys need to become violent men.

If you want to argue social construction, argue it. For instance, Thomson notes that industrialized society is not destroying itself at the rate of hunter-gatherers. We could conclude social forces have altered patterns of male violence. Instead, an implication lingers that we have "evolved" in comparison to hunter-gatherers– or Islamic militants. Besides, in light of neurological arguments, what to make of female suicide bombers or American servicewomen? Hamas pays the family of bombers, we pay wages.

Finally, Thomson pleas to end "religion and its deadly supernatural beliefs." He also writes, "Religion historically has served as one of the crucial tags that instantly distinguish a group, dividing the world into us and them."

Religion is only one belief system among others that can be co-opted into creating division, dehumanization, and death. Stalin and his formally atheistic regime had no trouble killing millions. The point should be that "the divisive pretensions of religious belief" are a problem– but not one intrinsic to religion. Any belief system can create an inside and an outside, even liberal secularized democracy.

Mark Meier